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Porter Goss

A former director of the CIA, Porter Goss served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004. As chair of the committee, he was among the first members of Congress to be briefed on the Bush administration's domestic surveillance programs. Goss spoke to FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on March 5, 2014.

A former director of the CIA, Porter Goss served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004. As chair of the committee, he was among the first members of Congress to be briefed on the Bush administration's domestic surveillance programs. Goss spoke to FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on March 5, 2014.

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    Let's start out with the Oct. 25, 2001, briefing that you're a part of. The Intelligence Committee leaders are briefed by the vice president and Gen. [Michael] Hayden. ... Take us to that meeting. What was it like? Who was there? What was the reason for it?

    Well, it's very important to remember that the culture of the day was very different. In those times, it was, are we safe? Is there another one coming? Are we doing everything possible that we can do? Have we got all of our operational capabilities working at full speed, at high horsepower? ... So the element we were thinking about, at least I was thinking about as chairman of the Oversight Committee, was, is there anything more we need to be doing on the Hill in order to assist the executive branch to make us be safe? I think that attitude, which was prevalent then and certainly not unique to me, was an attitude that faded away over a period of time, when we began to understand better who the enemy was, what their capabilities were and so forth.

    That has changed the debate over the years, as I'm sure you're well aware. In those days, that meeting, my sense of that meeting is that we were being given highly sensitive, very privileged information about a capability that we needed very badly. All of the technology and so forth was not something that I particularly understood, and it wasn't presented that way. It was presented for the kind of customer I would be, a user as I would be, a user customer. And it was made to be very important. The safeguards were very definitely high-noted for us.

    … Tell me a little bit more just about the meeting, just what it was like. Who was there? Was Cheney briefing? Was Hayden briefing? What members were there? ...

    As I recall the meeting -- and I may have it mixed up with another one; that's always a possibility -- the vice president and Hayden carried most of the baggage to us on the Hill in the oversight roles. It was limited oversight. And the legalities, I think, were covered by [White House Counsel] Al Gonzales, if I'm not mistaken, at the time. That's my recollection. The questions that were asked about that were relatively straightforward, because we hadn't gotten into omitted data and chaining and networking and all this type of thing, particularly in this operational capability.

    My recollection of the meeting is that we came away saying that we need to beef up some of this capability. ... I don't recall anybody being troubled by it or saying that there is a human rights problem here, or a privacy-for-American-citizens issue. I just don't recall that being part of it at that time. ... We were very much -- at least I was -- very much on the battlefield, saying, "How do I help our guys here?"

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    What was General Hayden's role? And how was he as a briefer, how important it became?

    Well, we had the advantage of knowing Gen. Hayden because of his role as head of NSA. And, as you realize, the Intelligence Committee, in those days, the House Intelligence Committee, and the Senate, too, are select committees. The problem with select committees is that they are select, and you don't have very many people on those committees that know a whole lot about intelligence when you start out, so almost anybody who can come in and explain something to you is very welcome. And Mike Hayden is particularly good at coming in and explaining things in a way that, shall we say, neophytes in the business could understand it. And you really wanted to believe what Mike had to say and absorb it and digest it, rather than question it. ... ...

  3. Ψ ShareThe secrecy surrounding the "the program"

    And these complaints, though, that for instance because of the secrecy, you couldn't talk to aides? No one --?

    There was a problem with this; there's no question about it. My second, a fellow named [Rep.] Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.), a very distinguished congressman, for years represented us overseas in the interparliamentary discussions with the NATO allies, is a very well-respected, very knowledgeable person who understood intelligence, understood diplomacy and understood the world, was not allowed to be included in the inner core of this because he wasn't the Gang of Six or Eight or whatever. It made him very unhappy, and it made me unhappy. I couldn't talk to him, because I frankly would have valued his counsel. So yeah, there was limitation that bothered me.

    On the other side, at the staff, I have excellent staff on the committee. The Hill had excellent staff on the Intelligence Committee. Usually does. Good professionals. I had a staffer who came to me during the process that came out, not in early times but as we went along a little bit, and said: "Mr. Chairman, I am very concerned. There's something going on here that I am concerned about."

    And that individual was savvy enough, and had the right contacts at NSA, to say, "Two and two is not adding up here," and to come to me as the chairman, which was exactly the proper thing to do. And I, as the chairman, advised that individual that I appreciated the perspicacity, and the very clear and effective work that that individual is doing, and I urgently requested that individual talk to Gen. Hayden. I said: "You need to talk to Gen. Hayden, and you also need to know that concerns of the areas you're talking about are known to me. I'm not going to discuss [them], because you're, frankly, not cleared for this level of program or what's going on here. But the fact that you have discovered this means that you need to talk to Gen. Hayden, because a, it means word is getting out -- that's the first thing -- and 2, you need to be absolutely made comfortable that there's nothing untoward going on here."

    That process was sort of the beginning, for me, of the next step, which was becoming to be the defensiveness. We switched [from] offense of the program: Is it enough? Is it robust enough? Are we getting what we need? Do we have the language translators? Do we have the speed to translate? All of those questions that were so troublesome at the beginning suddenly came to be: "Wait a minute. Is everything we're doing here OK?" ...

    The aide, by the way, is Diane Roark.

    Yes, that would be correct.

    … And on this program, do you think that the Oversight Committee was getting the information they needed?

    I think, at that point, yeah, I really do. You've got to remember, this program was not doing all of the things that we've been talking about lately, that Mr. [Edward] Snowden and his revelations have yielded. Much of this has come later. And our concern then -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- our concern then was to stop another attack, to understand our enemy, to find out who these people are.

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    ... The New York Times article comes out in late 2005. By that time, you are now over at the CIA.

    Which article was this?

    The December 2005, the initial one on the program.

    Right.

    There were negotiations that went on for 14 months, off and on, with the White House, with The New York Times.

    Mike Hayden was designated the point man by the White House, and he basically carried the whole thing. Mike is a very superb public relations guy. He understands it very well. He understood this program perhaps better than anybody in the United States. He probably briefed it more than anybody else, presented it more, used words that provided comfort. And some people have been very critical of that, that those nice sort of gestures and pleasant demeanor that he presents things with was misleading. I don't think so. I think Mike was just generally trying to point it out there and say: "Look, it's a balance. We're really not trying to get into anybody's privacy here, but we are trying to stop the bombs from going off." …

    So the reaction in general, when it came out, how damaging did the administration feel this was?

    Well, I think they felt it was very damaging. At that point, we were getting into the new architecture. You may recall the intelligence community and the DCI [director of central intelligence] position was being killed off, and we were going to the directorate [sic] of national intelligence. So we were in a hiatus about who is most bothered about this. I was not bothered. I was well aware of the program, for both sides of the fence, and felt that I could see the material that this program is kicking in. I'm a believer in this program. Have I seen any abuses? No. Have I seen a lot of great take? Yes. Are there squabbles between CIA and NSA? Sure. What else is new? Are there squabbles with the FBI? Sure. Every day there are squabbles between CIA and FBI and State Department and DoD [Department of Defense]. Everybody wants everybody else's turf and money. We all know that.

    Putting all that aside, the program served the country extremely well. It was reined in; it was limited; it was used, I think, prudently. If I had seen a problem, I would have screamed. And I did see a problem, and that was the efficiency was being crippled by the FISA procedure. ...

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    So now that you're on the other side of the fence, you're over at CIA --

    No, the executive branch, OK?

    Right.

    Am I DCI or DCIA [director of the Central Intelligence Agency]?

    I guess, well, either one.

    It makes a difference, OK?

    You select. Your feeling about specifically the telephony metadata program, at this point, how effective it was preventing domestic attacks, how much info you were getting. Was the CIA using any of this information from the NSA? ...

    The big fight between CIA and NSA has always been, does CIA get the raw information directly, or does NSA get to massage it before CIA gets it? Whose analysts take it and work with it? That problem is going to go on forever. They've sort of worked out a modus operandi for the moment. It will change.

    So am I satisfied that we're getting the information? Yes. Is it critical? Is it a big piece of the information that we're getting about the Taliban and Al Qaeda and all of its offshoots and annexes and so forth? Yeah, it's vital.

    This is the phone metadata program specifically?

    Yeah, it is vital. I mean, I'm not briefed regularly on it as a DCI, because I know the program and its operational level. At DCI level, you work in a different level. But I'm aware of the program, and I'm told this is what we need. We need the money; we need this; we need that. And everything is still going ahead, and no squawk from the Hill. They're still briefed and so forth. So everything is right.

    Then I'm chief of CIA, director of CIA, and what my relationship then gets down to is, how do we better use the information operationally in our clandestine service that we are getting? What can we do with this information that we aren't doing now to get bin Laden? How do I take what you guys have? How do I focus it better and so forth? I mean, that was a customer request to NSA, obviously, you would expect. And I think that relationship was working pretty well.

    Now, the metadata chaining question very quickly became, "Oh, my gosh, there is an American or two involved with these people." We had a couple of cases, which are probably public information but I'm not going to say because I'm not entirely sure, but we had people who were Americans, who had actually been in our sights here, who had left our country and had gone to another country where these radicals were operating in a safeguard sanctuary, sort of harbor of refuge, and were, in English, training people to come to America, running [training] in English language, [training] people how to become good Americans and come to America and do damage here.

    OK, that gets our attention very quickly. That gets the FBI's attention and Homeland Security's attention and so forth. That's very believable, very true. It happened. It's still happening, as far as I know. But the question is, how do we now deal with the telephone conversations if this guy is calling somebody back in the United States? ...

    So to say that anybody is out there willfully creating terrible mayhem and shredding our Constitution and our rights because they have some nefarious purpose, it's wrong. We are trying hard as a nation to learn how to deal with a situation that we've been confronted with never before. We're not dealing with nation-states. We're dealing with actors, bad actors, and they're in the badlands, and the badlands are all over the place. And they're not declaring war on us. The badlands haven't declared war on us; the people in the badlands have. How do you deal with it? One of their tools is all this telecommunication, and we need to keep track of it.

    The metadata, specifically, though -- the question, of course it comes up because the president's review group had focused on it and looked at it and said, "You know, we don't see it being effective in preventing terrorist attacks." The metadata program is the program that's taking in all domestic phone calls and storing them. Whether they're being looked at or not is another question. But this question of the phone metadata program, your point of view? Disagree with the review group's attitude toward it?

    I left the agency in 2006. The situation was very different than it is now, so I cannot pretend to tell you that my opinion about what it was in 2006 might not be the same it is today. It appears to me additional safeguards are needed today. I would agree with the group on that. But to say that the metadata was not useful is clearly not an intelligent statement.

  6. Ψ ShareOn the alarm bells sounded by whistleblower Diane Roark

    So let's talk about Diane Roark for a second. Who is Diane Roark? What was she for the committee, her role?

    Diane, very capable senior staffer, ... the go-to girl on the House Permanent Select Committee [on Intelligence] on matters dealing with NSA, did a very fine job, so good that she pierced the veil of the program that she was not briefed on, not cleared for, but knew something was going on. Properly did the right thing and brought it to my attention. I tried to assert, persuade her that the people who should know about this do. [I told her,] "But you need to talk to Mike Hayden, because Mike Hayden needs to know what your worries are, and he wants to probably know how you figured this out, because he's worried about other people figuring it out."

    So in 2002 she becomes concerned, after talking to [Bill] Binney and Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis. She starts writing memos to you and to Nancy Pelosi on the program, and she argues that the domestic filters should be reinstalled. The whole story, as you know, the ThinThread thing, was -- they had a program. They took out all the domestic filters. So therefore, their concern was that the Constitution was being broken and that there was an invasion of privacy. What's your reaction? She says she never got feedback from you guys. What was going on?

    Well, the word I read the other day when I was looking at this was that she was "rebuffed" by me. That's not an accurate word. That's somebody who wrote the stories where she was rebuffed. She was received by me, and she was given advice by me and told what the course of action would be, because I felt she was doing her job very well. Had I not, I would have taken other action. ...

    But her attitude ... when she talked to us is that there was not enough technical knowledge among the members.

    True, absolutely true.

    She believes that that meant that the oversight was lacking because you were not allowed to talk to expert staff, and she thought that that was a big lack, because she saw this as a big problem, and she thought the oversight -- the committee had basically passed off on the obligations of oversight.

    Well, I could understand why she'd feel that way. And if I were her, at her level, I think I might echo the same thoughts. ... The problem is, I and one or two other people have seen another side of the story that, to me, is a more compelling side of the story involving actually our national security and the commander in chief's execution of his responsibility of protecting Americans at home and abroad. And I feel this is a critically useful tool. And I'm not aware of any abuses. Potential for abuse, yes. Protections for those, yes, they're there, and they could be better. And FISA -- we'll get back to FISA maybe -- is one of them. But my ability to persuade her that that was enough obviously wasn't successful. Nor was apparently Mike Hayden able to persuade her. ...

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    So tell me the story again. So you talk to Hayden and say--

    I called Hayden up after she came in. And I said, “Mike, it’s the Chairman. And you need to talk to this young lady. She’s a very, very intelligent staffer. She has my full support. And I am sending her back to you. And you need to understand what her concerns are and respond to them.” And that was pretty much it.

    Do you hear back from either of them?

    I did hear later. Mike called me, and he said ... “I think it’s taken care of.” He said, “This is -- This is what we briefed you on. This is -- There's nothing here you don’t know. Rest comfortably. All of that is fine. She said she found out about it, and I tried to calm her down, and that’s where it is.”

    Well, it turned out that wasn’t where it was, because for whatever reason, she kept -- she came back a couple of more times. I said, “Look, Diane. I can't talk to you about this. It’s a highly compartmented thing you are suggesting here, and where we are. And you have a channel to Hayden. And, if you come back to me with something specific, maybe.” But I never received an abuse or a complaint. I received a, “Oh my gosh, the world could end tomorrow if this thing is abused.” But there was no proof that it was being abused. And there was a safeguard.

    The way she tells the story now is that what she said to Hayden, was that the protections had been stripped out. And that domestic material was being taken without the protections that were originally built into ThinThread. And she felt that that was -- this is a dangerous precedent. And she was suggesting to you guys that the program should either be adjusted or it should be killed. And she was getting nowhere.

    Which program?

    The NSA’s warrantless surveillance program.

    Well, there are a couple of different programs involved here. ...

    Well her focus was on the domestic side of things, what was being taken under the authorities of the President.

    Well, there's a whole other program involved that Mike was working with, that he was using to replace the original program. And that’s what started the debate. And there are players with interest on this, in the iron triangle, shall we say.

    ... The email metadata you mean?

    No, this was before that. This is-- This is having to do with basically setting up a program. I've got to be a little careful about this, because I don’t know what's been revealed and what hasn’t. There was an original program that helped us try and keep track, surveil things that were what I will call actionable intelligence. In order to expand on that capability as the world went more and more cell phone, the big issue was, how do we go ahead, as there are more and more uses on this cell phone, how do we keep up with the uses, the fact of the cell phone, and so forth? And, is it the material we want? Or is it the fact of, the fact that there was a transmission?

    Well the fact of the transmission is far less threatening than what was actually said. And the question, now, is that once you have the fact of the transmission, can you just quickly go to the private conversation? Is there a safeguard into that? Those are the kinds of questions that were sort of on the threshold at the time, and have gone through a lot of scrutiny since. And various decisions have been made since.

    But it's an evolving process.

  8. Ψ ShareThe debate over collecting metadata

    And it’s a big debate over that, that specific question of whether -- how important metadata is. I mean the administration has been sort of saying, well, it was considered, it was not covered Constitutionally. It’s not as important as content. But then, the other sides, the privacy advocates will say, “No, no, wait a minute. The metadata is actually more important than the content. Because if you know, over several years, who these people talked to, and how many times they talked to the abortion clinic, or the local strip club, that, in fact, is even more important.

    Okay. That’s certainly true, that any one of these things can be abused. Let me make it very clear about our intelligence program. We are designed to get information that can be useful to protect our national security. Mostly we do it overseas. But these days, the world has gone global. So those connections between the United States and mischief makers overseas become important.

    What we haven't figured out yet is how to filter out what is and what isn't, important for national security. Now, you say somebody’s trips to the abortion clinics, that is of no interest whatsoever to anybody in the intelligence business, unless the person happens to be on the radar for some actionable intelligence reason. In that case, it’s very helpful. So we’re going to say, “Wait a minute. We can't take helpful information to our intelligence program, the fact that this guy has been buying guns for 20 years, and has been increasing them and hiding them, apparently, in this storehouse over here. That metadata suggests that. Shouldn’t we look into that?” That’s useful. ...

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    Let’s just finish the last thing on Diane. So just your overview of,

    it is kind of an important and amazing story on how this all resolves. Her house is raided at 6:00 in the morning. These older gentlemen from the NSA, like Bill Binney, who had been there for 35 years and was pretty high up there, and Tom Drake, and Wiebe, their houses are all raided by the FBI, with drawn guns. What was happening? ... Her point of view, of course, is always that she was targeted simply because she vigorously did her job of oversight; she wasn't a leaker. What she was trying to do was work within the system, and she was trying to do the job that she thought she was supposed to be doing.

    Well, I agree with her, to the point that my dealings ended with her. I don't know what happened after my dealings ended with her. But I would say that her defense is spot-on. I would agree with that. As for the raids and so forth, I actually didn't know about that until fairly recently, when I read some of this stuff, and it did certainly raise my eyebrows. There is prosecutorial misconduct in this country, and there is what I will call excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies that goes way beyond common sense and what's necessary. I've seen it happen time and again. Whether it's politically inspired, career-inspired, some kind of personal agenda, I don't know what causes it. I've seen it happen. That to me is a bigger danger than the NSA finding that you've emailed your sister-in-law. That, to me, is somewhat benign. The fact that we actually let these guys off the leash, and they go in in these SWAT maneuvers against people like this, is outrageous. I mean, it is outrageous. And that, to me, is a bigger worry. ...

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    … So President Obama takes over in 2009. In the past, he had been a big critic of the Bush program. Are you surprised that when he takes over, he continues pretty much the same policies when it comes to the NSA program?

    No, not at all, because the options he had are so limited, and the consequences of doing much else are so severe. It's one thing to be a Monday-morning quarterback. It's when the next Saturday you're put out on the field, or the next Sunday you're put out on the field, and you've got a 300-pound guy coming at you at 40 miles an hour, it's a very different decision you make, and I think that President Obama found that out very quickly. ...

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    And your overview of the [Edward] Snowden case? How do you view it?

    I view the Snowden case as a very predicted -- and it was -- consequence of something that the conventional wisdom developed after 9/11, and that is intelligence is no good if it's not coordinated with everybody, completely violating the compartmentation theory and the need-to-know-with-whom-to-share theory. I think what happened, this idea of pumping out all the information, the classified information down all of the pipes and all of the tubes so that every customer has it inevitably is going to lead to leaks or abuse of the information, inevitably. ...

  12. Ψ ShareWhy the Snowden leaks were "extraordinarily damaging"

    And the effect of the revelations that Snowden has leaked?

    Oh, I think they are extraordinarily damaging in many ways. I think a lot of people knew there was bedrock. There has always been bedrock. But where this is damaging is that the pretenses that you have to make in the civilized world in order to keep Main Street in your country together -- if you are [Chancellor of Germany] Angela Merkel and the Americans are spying on us, this is unacceptable to Main Street Germany, so you have to be outraged. Does Angela Merkel know that? Of course she knows. Do the Brits? Of course. Everybody understands this. I mean Jonathan Pollard is telling me that he should be out of jail because he’s spying for the right guys? Come on. Everybody knows what is going on. It's just nobody can say it. ...

    And so we have gotten into this sort of pretense that you can’t identify the 800 pound gorilla in the room because it causes too much trouble for your friend and customer over here, so we go through these pretenses that we must do. Pakistan is a case in point, and we have unfortunately just ruined our relationship over there which was a wonderful, quiet, behind the curtain relationship that was yielding us great results, which has been trashed by revelations that have caused people to take positions that have really ruined relationships now. And it isn’t just in Pakistan; it’s everywhere. So if you ask me has Manning caused us problems? Sure. Not just in the question of operational assets and capabilities but in the human relationships, the trust question, which is the critical question now.

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    And this argument that the other side, critics of the administration will say that, as you said, all of the leadership in the world understood the game, but the reality was the public didn't understand the game.

    Exactly.

    ... But is there something to be said about this? This is a war that we're now in for 13 years, and to some extent we began believing that this was a short term -- maybe you could do these very extensive powers for short periods of times, but it just seems like this is a never-ending war, and that is starting to worry people, because these are rights that Americans sort of expect. What do you think of that sort of point of view? Do you understand some of the anger that is out there on the side of people that believe in civil liberty?

    Sure. I certainly understand the anger. I would think that the ogre, the Big Brother, the George Orwell is there. People have got that in their heads. At least some generations do. I don't know about the most current generation of young people, but I definitely feel that there is a, as the world goes more and more tap, tap, tap with your phone and your email and your smartphones and all the stuff that is going on, there is less and less privacy. People are inviting people into their lives. So there is a change of view of privacy that is going on culturally and generationally.

    I remember when I was a case officer in Brussels, [Belgium,] all the way back in maybe the '60s. I was trying to find somebody, and I went to a store in Divaca, [Slovenia,] a convenience store, to get the phone book, and no phone book. I finally found some friends and said, "I need to find so-and-so," and said, "Where do I find a phone book?" They looked at me and said: "Phone book? We don't print our numbers in the phone. Private people. No. You won't find that here. Nobody would put their number out." And absolutely true.

    When I think back in the 50 years that have transpired, now people are inviting people into their lives with their innermost secrets, it seems, and some of us Facebook and so forth. So that has changed a little bit, and I do understand that there is a sense of outrage that the government is violating its trust and that is something we should guard against very, very strongly.

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